Homebase chief executive Damian McGloughlin’s original career ambition was to become a police officer. But when he started to work the shop floor at rival DIY retailer B&Q, he eventually “fell in love with retail”.
“I started my career out on the shop floor while going through higher education – I was just a Saturday boy at B&Q,” McGloughlin recalled.
“I loved how fast-paced retail was – every day was different. I’ve never looked back.”
Since the Covid-19 pandemic struck last year, McGloughlin said the home improvement sector within retail has grown. And the reasons are rather obvious: people have had to work from home, or have been ordered to stay home and put on furlough – all of which add to giving people more time and reasons to renovate or redecorate.
“Home has become everything now – it’s been a classroom, entertainment space and an office, as well as your bar and socialising space,” he told Retail Gazette.
“Because of all those things, we’ve come out of the last year with a greater emotional tie to the home as part of that.
“We’ve seen new customers coming into our stores, including a younger generation and their families.
“As the home and garden experts, customers see the benefit of coming to us for advice and guidance, whether that’s through our online ‘how tos’ or coming to see us in person.
“We want to help people, and we are finding that more people are coming to us for that expert advice.
“There’s no getting away from the fact that it’s been challenging for teams working on the frontline, and we’ve done everything we can to keep them safe, which is why we have invested our time and support for the #shopkind initiative.
“We’ve also had to learn and adapt quickly. With more customers shopping online, the weighting of sales towards digital changed overnight.
“Over the last year, we’ve invested even more in this area through our 10-year partnership with The Hut Group.”
McGloughlin noticed that people were being “much more adventurous with colour” when it came to product trends during the pandemic. He also found that visits and dwell time on Homebase’s online ‘how to’ pages shot up significantly over the last year since customers were finding it hard to get a tradesperson.
Almost as if in response, in March Homebase launched a refreshed website after undergoing an overhaul to improve online customer experience. New features include a new “before and after” makeovers to provide inspiration and “shop the look” content so customers buy everything they need to recreate the latest trends in their homes.
“Digital has significantly grown and is an important part of retail,” McGloughlin reflected.
“Customers are generally inspired by what they see online first and will continue to do more research online about the kind of product they are looking for.
“The decision then comes down to whether they want to buy the product in-store or online.
“Some customers want to touch and feel a product before they buy it or speak to someone face to face about their project, so will come into store.
“On the other hand, some customers know exactly what they want and will just complete the transaction online.
“Because many people get their initial ideas for home and garden updates or transformation projects from social media, we’ve adapted the shopping experience in-store.”
Alongside improving online customer experience, Homebase launched a new partnership in mid-April with fashion retailer Next, which saw its garden centres open inside six Next stores.
“Our partnership with Next came out of our recognised expertise in gardens,” McGloughlin explained.
“The Next team have been brilliant partners to work with so far. Our two teams turned it around in the space of a few weeks, and we’ve worked absolutely seamlessly together.
“It’s been our first test as a concession partner to another business. We’ve had loads of experience managing other concessions in our stores, but it’s been our first chance to take our quality products to another brand.
“Customer feedback has been very positive so far, and we’re looking forward to seeing how the partnership progresses.”
Homebase has also been using all kinds of methods to “understand customers better”.
“A lot of the work early in our turnaround focused on simplifying how we operated so we could get closer to our customers,” McGloughlin said.
“We now understand them better, which has meant we’ve been able to deliver more of what our customers want when they want it.”
Homebase runs live customer listening groups where it receives “in the moment” feedback on new ranges or store layouts.
“I was just a Saturday boy at B&Q”
“We have an amazing tool called ‘Feels Good To Be Heard’ that allows us to constantly collect customer feedback on a store-by-store basis,” McGloughlin said.
“It helps us continuously improve, and we often take things customers love and share them with other stores to introduce.
“We also use social media to inspire customers with the latest trends and must-have new products. It’s an important tool for us to get their feedback – and even to inform what products we sell.
“However, feedback isn’t useful unless you are doing something with it, so we also have systems to ensure that the right customer insight is getting to the right teams, from our commercial and buying teams to our marketing and store operations teams.”
McGloughlin told Retail Gazette that he was one of the longest-serving board directors at B&Q. He served as the retail director at B&Q before he stepped into the role of chief executive at Homebase three years ago.
He described Homebase as “a very different business”, especially since he had made the change from a publicly-listed company to one that is private.
“While there were problems to fix in the beginning, the passion of the teams across Homebase is clear to everyone who works here. We truly are a family,” he said.
“The role at Homebase is much broader with wider responsibilities and requires me to wrap my arms around the entire business. The thing I love most is that I have the total accountability to make a quantum difference. There is much more demanded of me as a leader.
“When you run a business such as Homebase, you have so much more ownership of the entire business, from strategy to operations and from the small day-to-day details to longer-term vision and plans.
“I have grown immensely as a leader during my time here. One of the main things I’ve learnt is the importance of agility, both as a leader and for the business.
“I’m a true believer in laying out a long-term plan, but you have to have the courage and agility to move away from it, adapt to the market and your customers when you need to.”
Since he started at Homebase, McGloughlin said he was most proud of “keeping the brand alive”. This meant needing to make some bold decisions – from changing ranges to changing the layout of stores.
“Homebase is a family business, and throughout my time here, I have prioritised the team,” he said.
“While we do bring in new talent where we need it, we focus on growing and developing the team we have. If people have the right attitude but don’t have the skills yet, we’ll do what we can to train them to where they need to be. We always look at stretching our internal teams, making sure we’re giving people opportunities.
“I’ve established myself as a chief executive and taken Homebase through a complete lifecycle, from selling the business, delivering a successful turnaround business, and now to the exciting next chapter of growth.
“The main thing I’ve learnt is that you’ve got to lead by paradox. One minute you’re in the detail – and at the other, you’re in the helicopter, thinking five, 10 years ahead. Because I’ve always been in the detail, I find it easy to zoom in and out.”
McGloughlin said that moving forward, Homebase would continue to “cement” itself as home and garden experts.
“We’ve put a clear full stop to our turnaround and have now entered our next chapter of growth,” he explained.
“We are very clear on who we are and therefore, what we offer our customers. Our plan now is to continue to accelerate that plan and deliver it through working closely with our suppliers and teams and offering the best products and service to our customers.
“Expansion across digital and fulfilment will continue to be a focus, as well as opening new stores in more communities, making it even easier to shop, whether it’s online or in our stores.
“We’ll continue to focus on newness and innovation, offering customers the right ranges and projects in partnership with brands and our suppliers.”